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Why Did the Palestinian Unity Government Fail? Crux of The Matter

02 August 2015

By Khalid Amayreh

The same factors that caused the lingering reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas to fail stand behind the failure of the Palestinian national unity government, headed by Rami al-Hamdalla.

Very few observers of the Palestinian political scene had expected the so-called national unity government to succeed. The reasons are many and have mainly to do with the chronic and seemingly irreconcilable differences between the Islamic Liberation Movement, Hamas, and the nationalist secular Fatah group.

The two sides have been trying, rather in vain, to reach a reconciliation pact. However, due to the dominant and omnipresent "Israeli factor" as well as the deep mutual mistrust and absence of good will on both sides, reconciliation efforts effectively reached a dead-end.

Indeed, by analyzing the outcome of numerous rounds of talks between the two sides, one would get the impression that the sides not only spoke in terms of cross-purposes but rather harbored different and occasionally paradoxical goals.

For example, Fatah, the mainstream faction of the PLO, headed by the elderly Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saw the "endgame" of any reconciliation process with Hamas as more or less amounting to enabling Fatah to revert to the status-quo ante that prevailed in the Gaza Strip prior to Hamas's "coup" or "military intervention" which dismantled the PLO security apparatus and ousted Fatah's militiamen from the coastal enclave.

On the other hand, Hamas views any return to the pre-1996 setup as being tantamount to political suicide. Hence, any concessions that would seriously undermine Hamas's security dominance in Gaza, e.g. the Izzidin al-Kassam Brigades, are quite unthinkable as far as the Islamist group is concerned.

Crux of the matter

In fact, this is undoubtedly the main contentious issue impeding genuine reconciliation between the two sides.

Fatah has repeatedly and ostensibly convincingly argued that any "unity government" wouldn't be able to rule without having "complete" security powers.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Fatah leader, complained recently that Hamas "only wanted us to be a mere ATM (automated telling machine) for Hamas."

The high-ranking Fatah official was apparently alluding to incessant demands by Hamas that the PA must pay the salaries of all Gaza employees, including security personnel hired by Hamas.

Initially, the PA agreed. However, due to a combination of lack of funds and absence of good will, the PA commitment to this effect was never carried out in good faith.

More to the point, the recurrent arrests of Hamas's supporters in the West Bank served to widen and deepen the gap of mutual mistrust and suspicion, with Hamas accusing the PA of being at Israel's beck and call in the context of the security coordination regime between the Israeli occupation army and PA security agencies.

Fatah often sought to defend the arrests by arguing that the detained Islamist activists in the West Bank were not arrested on political grounds but rather on security grounds. Fatah also suggested that the persecution of Hamas supporters in the West Bank was a quid-pro-quo for a persecution of Fatah supporters in the Gaza Strip.

Finally, it has been noticed that Fatah and allied PLO factions have been dragging their feet on erstwhile understandings with Hamas to allow the Islamic group and its junior sister, the Islamic Jihad, to join the PLO institutions.

According to various pundits, PLO factions are worried that the umbrella organization, viewed as the sole and only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, would morph into an entirely different body if a strong and ideologically-heterogeneous group like Hamas became a full member of the PLO.

The Israeli factor

One of the least talked about factor behind the failure of both the reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah and the unity government is the dominant Israeli factor.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned that the PA leadership would have to choose either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel because it couldn't choose both.

However, most Palestinian observers, including this writer, believe that in the final analysis, Hamas is a "virtual red herring" for Netanyahu who uses the Hamas golem to divert attention from his own extremism, intransigence and recalcitrance.

At the end of the day, Netanyahu, not Hamas, is responsible for the liquidation of the two-state solution prospect due to the intensive and ubiquitous expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Hence, one could candidly argue that it is Netanyahu, not Hamas, that effectively decapitated any remaining hopes for the two-state solution.

Finally, one of the key issues that would conceivably expedite a lasting Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is the organization of general elections in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

However, Hamas is worried, and rightly so, that such elections would be a trap to strangle the movement.

Hamas knows that Israel would round up most or all of the candidates on the eve of the elections day probably in collusion with the PA; hence, Hamas's reluctance to agree on unconditional polls in the absence of meaningful international guarantees.

Needless to say, the only party that could give such guarantees is Israel which considers Hamas a terrorist group bent on its destruction.

Khalid Amayreh is a Palestinian journalist and current affairs political commentator living in Occupied Palestine 



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